Rooibos Running Hot

Hain Celestial, Twinings, TAZO, Tetley, STASH, Good Earth and Republic of Tea have all placed big bets on Rooibos.

Sales of the non-caffeinated herbal from South Africa are booming in both hot and cold formats.

A Bloomberg News report this week focused attention on the rapid sales growth of the needle-like leaves from the 6-foot shrub, native to an area northwest of Cape Town that include the Cedarberg mountains. Rooibos has been used in traditional medicine for generations to treat allergies, digestive issues and colic. Rooibos is rich in bio flavonoids and antioxidants. Rooibos extract is used as well in soap and cosmetics.

Starbucks has a deep lineup in foodservice and packaged goods with two varieties of Rooibos teas under the Tazo brand – Green Rooibos (Organic Spicy Ginger Filterbag and Thrive Filterbag) as well as traditional Rooibos teas (Organic Apple Red Filterbag, African red bush Filterbag, Decaf Chai Filterbag, Vanilla Rooibos Full Leaf, Decaf Chai Concentrate, Organic Vanilla Rooibos Concentrate). The company also announced in 2009 a line of Tazo Well-being teas, which includes Thrive (a green Rooibos variety) in the packaged goods line.

Hain offers an African Orange Mango Rooibos and a Madagascar Vanilla Red Rooibos and Twinings offers African Rooibos Red in conventional and organic a Vanilla and Strawberry Rooibos and a pure Rooibos.

Republic of Tea recently introduced a line of Get Active teas that include Organic Green Rooibos in all five blends, this in addition to its Mango Chili Green Rooibos and Black Currant Cardamom Green Rooibos.

The U.K. saw a 300 percent increase in rooibos sales from 2003 to 2007. North Americans consume 650 metric tons valued at $6.5 million. Production has increased to 14,000 metric tons and global retail sales topped $140 million last year with half the crop exported to Germany, the Netherlands, U.K. in Europe and Japan and North America, according to Hugh Lamond, President of Herbal Teas International, the largest Rooibos importer in North America. Africans consume the remainder. The drink constitutes about 10 percent of the herbal tea market, according to the South African Rooibos Council.

“Five years ago, Rooibos was really quite a niche product,” said Paul Jefferies, a London-based herbal tea buyer for Tata Global Beverages Ltd.’s Tetley, which sells about 300 tons of the tea a year under its Red Bush label. He told Bloomberg that thanks to “a very strong marketing campaign, sales have been on a steep upward curve.”

Good Earth has used Rooibos in its Sweet & Spicy tea for nearly 20 years and Hain Celestial Group Inc. introduced its African Orange Mango Rooibos tea to the U.S. seven years ago. Nestle sells rooibos-flavored yogurt. Starbucks greatly increased the visibility of Rooibos when it introduced Rooibos lattes to its menu board in every city and town. Many tea rooms now offer blends with a Rooibos base that are popular with women and young tea drinkers.

Associated British Foods Plc’s Twinings tea division said Rooibos now makes up 2.6 percent of its sales, with Unilever NV’s Lipton unit also ranking among the top sellers.

“The demand for Rooibos tea has increased rapidly during the last few years,” Carl-Olof Skeppstedt, creative director at London-based tea consultancy Tatler & Brown Ltd., said in an e-mail. “Taste, health benefits and the lack of caffeine are some of the main reasons for the increase.”

Specialty teas including Rooibos account for about 9 percent of the $2.1 billion U.S. tea industry.

Source: Bloomberg News, Starbucks, Rooibos Ltd.

Dan Bolton

About Dan Bolton

Dan Bolton edits STiR Tea & Coffee Industry International. He was formerly editor and publisher of World Tea News and former editor and publisher of Tea Magazine and former editor-in-chief of Specialty Coffee Retailer. He is a beverage retail consultant and frequent speaker at industry seminars and conferences. His work has appeared in many beverage publications. He was a newspaper reporter and editor for 20 years prior to his career in magazines. Dan is the founding editor of Natural Food magazine and has led six publishing ventures since 1995. He lives in Winnipeg, Canada.